Buddhism practitioners mark birthday day with meditation

by Taylor Moak, The Commercial Appeal, June 16, 2011

Memphis, TN (USA) -- People gathered at the Pema Karpo Meditation Center Wednesday in North Memphis to celebrate Buddha's birthday.

The celebration is known as Saga Dawa Day and marks Buddha's birthday, enlightenment and death, said Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche, founder and director of the center in Raleigh.

Rinpoche said this month is special for Tibetan Buddhists to practice, and particularly Buddha's birthday.

"We think it's very special if you practice this day," Rinpoche said.

Mikii Williams, 36, has been going to the center for more than a year. She attended the morning and afternoon services at the center and said she planned to attend the evening service.

Williams said every Buddhist's goal is to become enlightened, and the services Wednesday centered on Buddha. "It's primarily his enlightenment," she said.

Thomas Lenk, Rinpoche's attendant, said Tibetan Buddhists follow a lunar calendar, and Williams said the practices Wednesday were intensified because of the full moon.

The services Wednesday followed a certain pattern of sitting and recitation "as a way of remembering Buddha as the originator of this path," Lenk said. He said they were similar to the regular services held at the center.

"In the Buddha, dharma and supreme assembly," people at the afternoon services chanted, "I take refuge until attaining enlightenment."

The center has about 40 regular members, Lenk said.

He said the services Wednesday brought regular members to the center as well as people who do not usually attend services.

Rinpoche said three to four people attended the morning service and about 10 came for the afternoon service. He expected 20 to 30 for the evening service.

Laura Wrenn, 56, is a long-time member of the center. She said she came to celebrate Buddha's birthday to be still and quiet.

"It's really important now... for everyone to take time to be centered," Wrenn said.